The iPhone watch joins the suite of products which support apps – most nowadays work on phones and tablets but we are only just starting to see some of the popular ones being transferred into the Apple Watch.

Rowing apps mostly focus on either indoor rowing machines or rowing boats.  On the water you have limited time to look at numbers, so most athletes limit their requirements to – measuring distance, time and stroke rate with a calculated split time. After training, deeper analysis is then possible. Rowing ‘geeks’ are likely to already be familiar with rowsandall.com where you can upload a diverse range of rowing data for post-training analysis – and it’s free to use.

There are not many Apple Watch apps with deep functionality for rowing.  Here is a selection:

1.   Workout
All Apple Watches come with the Workout app – and rowing outdoors is not an option.  You can get a good estimate of calories burned with the indoor rowing setting – but this hardly helps when you’re in the boat.  A cunning workaround is to use the Workout app and to substitute “running” for the activity.  So you get heart rate, active calories, distance, pace, and elapsed time and also a map of where you went.  One thing to note is to turn on the setting which keeps the app running when you’re ‘stationery’.  This accounts for when you are turning the boat round or having a drink.  Otherwise the tracking is disconnected and harder to interpret.

2.  Rowing SPM

This is simple and does one thing really well – counting rating strokes per minute and displaying averages during a single piece.  It is manual so the person taking ratings need to tap the screen each time the oars go into the water. But this is pretty useless if you’re actually rowing and haven’t got a third hand to keep tapping the screen. Good for coaches or coxswains at a push.

3.  Swim.com
This is an alternative rate count app which may work while you are actually rowing.  Designed for swimmers and also with an iPhone watch version, this is more aligned with the needs of rowing (fixed and sliding seat) than Rowing SPM.  Because your arm moves while you swim and the forward surge in each half of the stroke is not very pronounced, this app both has the sensitivity to count strokes at a high cadence and also allows you to exercise while it records.  One advantage is that this app is already on Android as well.

4.  PowerRow
Available for both water and indoor rowing machine use, this paid app is pretty simple.  Using the apple watch motion sensors it records each stroke taken.  But it’s pretty basic, doesn’t do stroke rates and really you would do better to use Workout above.

What makes rowing apps inaccurate?

It comes down to GPS Drift which is an issue with apps using GPS for distance and speed measurement. This can cause distance readings while sitting in one place. Obviously this challenges the accuracy of apps using GPS signals. But it appears that ‘drift’ is a part of how GPS works with the tracking satellites here’s a link to the GPS Drift explanation.

Another cause of variable data is smoothing and averaging.  Most rate meters and indoor rowing machines average your stroke rate count and derived variables over several strokes. This is most obvious when starting a piece because your 500m split starts high and then reduces towards your long term average over time.

Manufacturers add averaging to most rowing electronics.  Some, like Coxmate’s GPS allow you to determine the sensitivity range (low, medium, high) for detecting each stroke.  This can be set to be different for the first stroke you take compared to your normal rowing strokes.  The higher the setting, the less acceleration is required to trigger the signal – so you can choose a high sensitivity for the first stroke and then low sensitivity thereafter.  Ratings are calculated metrics and these are also averaged. For rating, you can row with between 1 and 5 stroke averages – NK’s website says the StrokeCoach “update every stroke” but I think from my personal use data that it averages over 3 strokes as default.

For articles on rowing apps:here and here.

Thank you to Rebecca Caroe, host of the RowingChat podcast, for her continued search for the best apps for rowing and rowing data analysis.